Authors: Richard Finney,Franklin Guerrero
Encino / California
THE RELICT SERIES
Copyright © 2012 Richard Finney
Published by Lono Publishing
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Book Cover Photograph © Vittorio – Crescenzo Salatiello
To Brooke, who knows this storyteller’s favorite words - “And what happens next…”
To Debbie, my world, and my most important audience. I couldn't do it without her.
” rel∙ict (noun) –
A species or organism surviving long after the extinction of related species or organisms.
A once widespread natural population surviving only in isolated localities because of changes in the environment.
A remnant of a preexisting species left behind after a destructive event has taken place.
For most of his life, all Matt Haynes thought about was himself.
After the takeover, he took some time to think about the fate of the rest of the world.
But those thoughts didn’t last very long.
He did think about his ex-wife, Beth. And at least those thoughts lasted long enough for him to work through a plan to make it back to the States.
That was why he was riding a motorcycle on one of the back roads leading to Morristown, New Jersey.
He and his buddy, Jay Granville, had made it a point to steer clear of any of the main highways. Matt was convinced this had helped them avoid any confrontation with any of the patrols as they travelled through four states.
Jay let go of his right handle grip, then balled the same hand into a fist and extended it high in the air. Matt triggered the brakes on his motorcycle, rolling to a stop next to Jay’s bike.
Seven cars were left abandoned in the middle of the road ahead. There was also a minivan, which had somehow wound up stuck in a ditch, its rear tires hanging at least three feet off the ground.
“What do you think?” asked Jay. “Ride on… or check and see if there’s anything we could use?”
“We’re not very far away from Beth’s house,” Matt said.
Stopping less than a mile away from his ex-wife’s house would only mean opening up the possibility of one of the patrols seeing them. He knew if that happened, he’d go to his grave thinking about the irony of coming halfway across the world only to be stopped a half-mile away from his goal.
But he voiced none of this to Jay. His buddy had been with him since Madrid and he didn’t want to feel like he was the one calling the shots.
“Where did these people think they were escaping to?” Jay turned to him. “You know what I’m talking about?”
Matt nodded. “Yeah, I hear you.”
“Like there was someplace better to run off to…”
He turned to look toward the horizon. The sun was setting. Matt took off his shades. He actually squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dying light.
“I’m low on munchies,” said Jay. “How much you want to bet that even though the world was coming to an end, no one wanted to die starving to death? There’s got to be something to eat. And we know the bloodsuckers wouldn’t have a reason to take it.
“Yeah, okay, that makes sense,” said Matt. The last thing he wanted to do was argue with Jay after he had come all this way with him. “Let’s go take a look.”
They switched off their engines and walked their two bikes over to the side of the road.
From his leather bag, Jay grabbed a sawed-off shotgun, the one he had pulled off the dead guy who was working with the toll gang who had tried stopping them near Raleigh.
This time Jay didn’t bother taking the rifle out of the blanket. Between his finger and the trigger was a baby-blue, dyed-cotton quilt that a woman in the Sudan had given Jay for saving her husband from a government death squad.
Matt had a 9mm Beretta Px4 in a shoulder holster strapped across his chest.
He had originally picked up the Beretta in Libya, during the overthrow of Gaddafi. Ten days ago he paid off the customs guy in Atlanta to let him leave the airport with it.
The crocodile-leather shoulder holster (with cognac ostrich trim) was something he had snatched forty-eight hours ago while he and Jay were squatting in a condo in Norfolk, Virginia. The holster was hanging on a wall hook, only a few feet from a body. Matt surmised that the dead man had tried to crawl across the carpet in a futile attempt to reach his weapon.
Jay marched across the blacktop toting his shotgun with the confidence one usually reserves only at sunrise as Matt, one by one, checked the cars left abandoned in the middle of the road.
His buddy had it right – escape to where? The whole world had come under siege. As Matt was in the middle of going through the trunk of the seventh vehicle, he tried to fathom what any of the occupants in the cars must have been thinking on the day they loaded up all their belongings and headed from their home.
“Anything?” Jay whispered to him from a dozen feet away.
“Nothing. Someone’s already been through here.”
His words didn’t upset Jay; they brought a smile to his friend’s face. The discovery had confirmed, at least to Jay, what he had been hoping for ever since they landed in the States on one of the last military planes.
“The States are the only place where I can imagine anyone will put up a fight.”
Matt disagreed with Jay’s narrow assessment of who would and would not put up a resistance to the takeover. But he wasn’t about to argue with the only man willing to watch his back as he made his way to New Jersey to check on Beth.
“Must be the resistance, “ said Jay, walking parallel to Matt as they headed toward the last car, the one abandoned on the side of the road. “They’re the only ones who would give a shit about real food.”
It was impossible for Matt to ignore the sight of Jay walking with an extra bounce in his step. He was clearly excited to pin some hope on the idea that there was a group of resistance fighters giving it back to the vampires.
Matt approached the last car, the minivan stuck in the ditch. The back trunk door was open and raised, and though he had to stand on the balls of his feet to look inside, Matt saw the belongings in the back had already been rifled through.
Jay suddenly raised his fist, prompting Matt to freeze.
The two stood still, both listening to their surroundings, waiting for any sign of an impending attack…
When more than a minute had passed, Jay lowered his fist and Matt made his way toward the front of the car.
What he saw surprised him. Unlike the other vehicles they had searched, this car still had two bodies: adults in the driver and passenger seats.
The brain matter splattered on the window behind the passenger made it easy for Matt to deduce that she had died from a head shot fired at close range.
The gun that had done the damage was in the lap of the male driver, inches away from the hand that had pulled the trigger a second time. His brains were above his head on the interior ceiling of the car.
Then Matt noticed something.
He quickly stepped away from the vehicle, waved his hand in the air for Jay to see, and pulled out the Beretta from the shoulder holster.
Jay followed alongside as Matt moved with a purpose back to their motorcycles. “What did you see?” whispered Jay.
“.38 Special. Two gunshots. Two victims. Both dead…
… that’s why they were left behind.”
They were moving double time and Jay’s breathing was louder than his question. “And what else did you see?”
“No blood,” Matt whispered. “Not a single drop…”
Matt didn’t immediately respond to Jay’s question as he stared through a pair of night-vision binoculars at his ex-wife’s house.
Finally, he turned and walked back toward their parked motorcycles. Along the way, he handed the binoculars to Jay.
Beth’s house was across the road: about three hundred yards across from where they had parked their bikes, in a part of the woods that was so dense not even a high-beam light from a helicopter would have been able to spot them.
“Okay, I see why you’re not so chatty. But just because there aren’t any lights doesn’t mean your ex-wife isn’t alive.”
“Look at the motion-detection lights near the garage,” said Matt. “If they were operative, we would see a small, flashing, red light.”
He panned the binoculars across the one-story, mid-century, ranch-style house. It was pitch black, not only around the entrance to the garage, but the whole front of the house.
“And you know about the motion-detection lights how?”
“I installed them myself.”
The last time Matt had seen Beth was more than nine months ago. It was possible she could have had someone change the lights. But why? An ex-wife changes the locks on the doors to their house, not the motion-detection lights in front of the garage.
“Maybe the guy who replaced you didn’t like how the lights kept him up at night when every cat, raccoon, or rabbit strolled by.”
When he didn’t get a response, Jay lowered the binoculars and turned to look over at Matt.
Matt was rubbing black shoe polish all over his face.
“Looks like you already made a decision,” said Jay as he walked back toward the motorcycles. “Mind letting me in on the plan?”
Matt tossed the tin of shoe polish back into the leather satchel on his motorcycle and reached in to grab something else. It was something he snagged from a sailboat anchored just beyond a harbor in Rhode Island.
“A flare gun? This is bullshit.”
He was hoping for a clean exit, but the outrage in Jay’s voice caused Matt to slowly turn around.
Jay was holding up the flare gun as if it was the perfect piece of evidence of his outrage.
“I’m sorry I got you involved in this.”
Matt’s words caused Jay to lower the gun.
They had been together for the last ten years in at least half a dozen hot spots across the world and Jay had never once heard Matt utter the words -- “I’m sorry.”
“I would ask for one last favor. If you see any of the bloodsuckers moving toward Beth’s house, you fire the flare gun. Then get the hell out of here. Just west of here there’s a canal system that goes on forever. You might be able to lose any patrol coming after you.”
“I have a better plan. Why don’t we both tub-thump your ex’s house and we’ll deal with any patrol along the way.”
Matt shook his head.
“My ex-wife… My suicide trap. I don’t want you joining the parade of people I see when I’m asleep. Okay?”
He didn’t wait for Jay’s reply. Matt turned and started walking away.
“So… I guess the threesome with your ex-wife I’ve been fantasizing about all this time is definitely off?”
Matt cracked a smile at Jay’s remark, but he never broke his stride as he disappeared into the darkness of the surrounding woods.
After running more than a mile through the woods, the edge of the forest facing his ex-wife’s backyard snuck up on him. Matt barely caught himself before he walked right into an open area.
He took a moment to look around to see if he was being watched. His effort was perfunctory. If one of the vampires were keeping an eye on the house, it would have had no problem seeing him in the darkness.
Then Matt scrambled across the open field to the wire fence – barely five feet high – which encircled Beth’s property.
A few weeks after they had moved into the house, Beth had a landscaper put the fence up to keep deer from getting into the backyard and eating all of the bushes she eventually would plant herself.
Matt hopped over the fence and sprinted across the lawn. When he arrived at the back door to the house, he stopped to catch his breath.
At his feet shards of glass sparkled in the moonlight. Matt saw that the window in the door had been shattered.
He rose slowly, just high enough to look above the open wooden frame. Nothing. But if this was a trap, he hardly expected it to be sprung in Beth’s garden room.
He pushed open the door while at the same time holstering his Beretta. Even with just the moonlight shining through the garden-room glass, he could see that all the potted plants and trees were dead. Dead for several weeks.
Through two tours in the Middle East, and a stint working as a paid mercenary soldier by a security company, his wife had been able to maintain the beauty of the garden room.
When he entered the living room of the house, he switched off his flashlight.
The curtains normally covering the front window had been ripped down, allowing plenty of moonlight to spill in.
The room had been overturned, like a team of burglars had their way with the contents.
For the first time since he had landed in the States, Matt finally started to believe something that he had dared not think about.
His entire trip had been a fool’s errand.
An object on the fireplace mantle caught his eye and Matt walked toward it.
It was an antique jewelry case with a painted, lead-glass top and sides. Matt opened the lid and discovered gummy bears inside. He couldn’t help but smile.
When he and Beth were still together, they would do grocery trips together. His wife would inevitably buy a ton of gummy bears. And each time, after unloading the groceries, the gummy bears would mysteriously disappear.
One day he discovered the stash – in the glove compartment of their car.
“Of course they’re in the glove compartment of the car. That’s where I like to ‘bake’ them while the car sits in the sun.”
Once they were properly “baked,” Beth would put them in the jewelry box.
Matt squeezed one of the gummy bears. Rock hard.
Beth was dead.
Convinced for the first time Beth was really gone, all Matt could hope for was that she was dead… DEAD.
Suddenly, there was a noise. Matt dropped the gummy bear as he crouched down and withdrew his Beretta.